This past saturday afternoon I went out to lunch with Chirona. I was craving some Indian food, and although it wasn't great, it was pretty good. It's no Little India, but it will have to do for now. We decided we both wanted to smoke hookah outdoors in Hou Hai, so we stopped by her hotel on the way. She's on the 4thish floor with a pretty interesting view.
One of the things I've been eager to explore more is the hutongs. When you are walking down an alley, you get the sense that there's a lot of life bustling behind those tall brick walls. Occasionally you'll pass an open door and get a short peak inside. The few times i've been brave enough to go much further, I've been confronted by residents. But from her window, I could clearly see what was behind the door.
This is fascinating to me. It's a little hard to tell what is what in the picture above, but the door from the street is at the lower right. Once you enter, there's a series of small buildings and a long hallway.
Now, when looking at this picture, you can clearly see the layout. The entryway is still in the lower right, although out of the picture. At first glance, it probably just looks like a bunch of small houses, but it's actually one family. Think about it like a normal Western home, but with the hallways being outdoors. You can see the main hallway going straight up the middle. The two small shacks on the right and the three on the left are probably bedrooms for children and grandparents, a kitchen, maybe an outhouse. The one straight back is for the parents. Now imagine putting a roof over it... suddenly it's not so different from a typical house back home.
The rest of the day was pretty relaxing. We took a long stroll around the lake and finally settled on a little cafe with outdoor couches and expensive beer. That was ok, we only really wanted the hookah.
My first experience with hookah was in the Czech Republic, but it's also really common here. For those who only know it from Alice in Wonderland, it's doesn't have any nicotine and it's not a drug. It's just flavored smoke and you get no high from it. It's relaxing and more for the social aspect. We sat and watched the bike taxis pass by and tried to escape the midday heat with cold beer.
Not a bad way to pass an afternoon.